Signs That You Might Have an Unnatural Link Profile Punishable By Google

Most website owners want two things when it comes to link building – to increase their website rankings and avoid getting penalized by Google. Unfortunately, a lot of webmasters are still receiving the dreaded unnatural link warning in Google Webmaster Tools – even SEOmoz, although they say it is not always a cause for concern. But nevertheless, most do not want to be on Google’s bad side when it comes to getting warnings.

Of course, along with the paranoid website and business owners, there are also those who believe that, out of the millions of websites on the Internet, how is Google going to single theirs out of the crowd. It’s not like someone is checking each website’s backlinks by hand unless New York Times sends their online search expert your way like they did with J. C. Penny. Unnatural link warnings are most likely caught by computers and algorithms. And what do computers and algorithms look for? Patterns and anomalies.


Without further ado, here are some patterns and anomalies in your link profile that might tip off both human search experts digging into your search marketing strategies as well as the computers that are sent to find them. Either avoid them, take proactive measures to fix them, or cross your fingers that Google doesn’t come after you.

A Sudden Surge of Links

Just like a car doesn’t go from 0 to 120 MPH in one second, a website doesn’t go from 10 odd links here and there to hundreds or thousands overnight unless they just hit the BBC or another news network and became famous. But what typically happens if you don’t invest in quality SEO work is that you might end up having a link builder slam your site with tons of links within the span of a few weeks or months.

Remember when it comes to link building, slow and steady will win the race in the end. Therefore, don’t sign up for a bulk link building service and, if you’re a SEO consultant, explain to clients why they need to start slowly with quality instead of jumping out the gate with too much quantity.

A Consistent Quantity of Links

Another thing that might signal unnatural linking is a consistent quantity of links. A natural would be a few here, a few there, maybe several more here, and none there. But if you’re signed up to receive 100 links every 30 days (and you get them), then that can make for an obvious pattern. So consider switching up services every month – some link building here, content marketing there, and social media all around. Don’t just invest in a steady links package.

Overuse of the Same Anchor Text

Speaking of natural, what are the chances that if you gave your link to 100 webmasters and told them to link back to you that they would all do it with one specific keyword anchor text phrase? Probably slim unless those 100 webmasters were also SEO’s and your homepage title only had your keywords in it.

Instead, what you would probably end up with is some links to your keyword anchor text (assuming that you had it in your website’s title), your brand or business name, the full URL of your website, just your, the word website, and maybe some to your name if people thought of it as your website. Hence, think about natural linking text when building and requesting links to a website and act accordingly. Better yet, don’t request that every webmaster add your link with specific anchor text. Just give them your link, a short description, and let them do what they feel is most natural. Then you will really achieve a natural link profile.

Links From the Same Set of Websites

One trap that link builders can easily fall into is getting links from the same sources. Nothing is more simple than having a list of 50 websites where you know you will get your way, maybe with or without compensation.

But what happens is this. You’ll have several websites with a very similar linking profile. Imagine from an overall online marketing perspective – you have a link builder that gets links from the same websites, an article marketer that submits to the same article directories, a blog commenter that comments on the same blogs, and so forth. This means a whole list of websites and clients could end up with the same portfolio, or very similar.

This also happens in the case of automated link building and link exchanges. The link system compiles a database of email addresses and starts sending the link requests out to the same sites. Link exchanges are particular vulnerable as you not only have websites with the same backlinks, but those websites are linking out to the same websites. Major red lights when it comes to detectable patterns.

Your best bet is to treat each website like it is the first one you’ve ever built links to. Start researching potential link partners and other resources from scratch. Time consuming, yes. But definitely a better way to have a fresh perspective per website and thus, a fresh link profile.

All Dofollow, PageRank 6 and Above…

The best links are sans nofollow when it comes to increasing rankings in search, and of course, they have high authority. But then again, a natural link profile would include a healthy mix of both dofollow and nofollow links of both higher and lower PageRank and Domain Authority.

The Best Link Profile

So what is the best way to create a natural looking link profile? Instead of building links with specific SEO-related criteria, build links based on direct traffic potential instead. Find websites whose audience would be a perfect fit for yours – ones that receive a decent amount of traffic – and try to get links on them. Also get involved in social media, local search, and content marketing, all of which will ultimately lead to traffic generating links to your website.

What other signals does Google uses to identify websites with unnatural link profiles and what are the best ways to avoid them? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

image credit – breakdown

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10 thoughts on “Signs That You Might Have an Unnatural Link Profile Punishable By Google

  1. JohnMc says:

    Good advice: keep it varied. Especially those anchors because setting off a Penguin alarm can be quite hazardous to your traffic.

    But how much of a mix do you think nofollows should be? Cutts mentioned somewhere that about 9% of the links on the web were nofollowed, so I’d guess that is about where they’re guessing a “natural” profile will fit. For a promoter, those nofollow links add up pretty dang quickly though: with just blog comments, Tweets, & bookmarks, basic social participation can pile those on quickly. So I wouldn’t go out of my way to build nofollow links since you’ll probably end up with a bunch anyway.

  2. James Welch says:

    Good advice, Kristi. A mixed bad always does the trick :)

  3. Kristi Hines says:

    I wouldn’t go out of the way to seek out nofollow links either – I always suggest that people don’t turn down a link simply because it’s nofollow, especially if there is good referral traffic value that could come from it. :)

  4. Kristi Hines says:

    Thanks James! The more variety, the better!

  5. Andrea says:

    I don’t think that considering percentage is a good thing. The percentage problem arise only in certain case and probably related to anchor text excess, but not about the kind of rel you use.

    Considering percentage of follow and nofollow it’s an error like considering keyword density – it has no value. In my opinion…you should never look for follow and nofollow, just get it and naturally it will stay natural ;)

  6. I think it’s also important to point out the need for quality content that adds value to the community you’re trying to get into. Quality link building is also, to an extent, about building a reputation for yourself as an authority in the field.

  7. Interesting post Kristi. My business website is connected to more than 8,300 other sites, mainly directories. Thing is, I certainly didn’t submit my site to all of those places, but somehow they picked me up in a certain category that wouldn’t have been my primary category and there you go. Luckily for me, all of that took place many years ago so I’m probably safe from any Google updates and the like, but I can’t guarantee that. And if I ever got a letter, there would be nothing I could do about it.

  8. I really hate Google for making this whole process so complicated..instead of sending link removal warning they could simple devalued such links and avoid negative SEO issues… !! Hope they add such mechanism in Webmaster tool in coming days.. Meanwhile Kristi you might like to remove the hyperlink from image (Image attachment link)…As Google indexed your attachment link and that one is ranking higher than this article….!!

  9. Mark says:

    It has never been more important to communicate the benefits of a long term strategy with your clients. Many still regard SEO, as a ‘job’ that can be completed in a set time. Manage those expectations!

  10. Olivia Brown says:

    Agree. What about the 4th point “Links From the Same Set of Websites”? Obviously I will promote my own site and since I own only one, there will be the links pointing to this single one only. Huh!

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